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The Growing Industry of DevOps Consulting

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Last week, European consultancy Container Solutions launched a new subsidiary that will focus purely on DevOps transformation and guidance.

The company has specialised in programmable infrastructure powered by technology like Docker, Mesos and Terraform. Devopsense, the new subsidiary, is their entrance into a growing market of DevOps consultancies, driven by a demand from established enterprises wanting to adopt a DevOps model and wanting guidance to get them there.

InfoQ spoke to Jamie Dobson, CEO of Container Solutions. He explained the thinking behind the new venture:

Container Solutions spend a lot of time on the bleeding edge. This means that our customers call on us to solve very difficult problems. These can range from the distributed processing of terabytes of data to building applications for a fleet of drones ... Devopsense will focus only on transformation. This will include addressing cultural aspects as well as technological ones. Container Solutions engineers will spend a lot of time building out tools and modules for vendors whereas Devopsense engineers will spend nearly all their time with customers.

The focus on working with customers is one which resonates with other consultancies in the DevOps space. A key part of the value proposition is in helping clients understand how DevOps will look in their organisation, and how to approach the transformation to get them there successfully. Stephen Thair, CTO of DevOps consultancy DevOpsGuys told InfoQ they commonly find this in their client engagements:

There are two main questions we get asked the most: 1. Where should I start? - so we would work with them to identify their goals and the key constraints and bottlenecks in their existing processes that might stop them achieving those goals. This means they get started where they will see the biggest return on their efforts, and have the best chance of success. 2. What does "good" look like? – so we can help show them industry best practice via a pilot project or proof of value. Once they can see a concrete example of what the start of the art looks like, it's far easier for them to get buy-in internally for a wider DevOps Transformation.

The point about buy-in is an important one. Companies looking to DevOps may not appreciate there is an initial up-front cost, not just in the transformation process, but in acquiring new skills and using them to automate manual processes. Matt Saunders, principal consultant at Contino, a DevOps consultancy which had a $30 million VC injection this year, told InfoQ:

Customers who approach us have generally realised that doing DevOps properly is going to be a long-term project, but many also believe that you can make quick fixes to their company to "unlock" DevOps by deploying some free open-source tools. We try to engage with these customers to encourage a wider analysis ... at which point the need for a more sustained investment generally becomes clear.

Getting the most from DevOps requires more than just investment for cultural change. Transitioning to a culture which can deliver high-quality software at high cadence only works if your products are technically structured to benefit from rapid deployment. Combining technical change with cultural change gives the greatest potential for improvement, in the view of Jamie Dobson from Container Solutions:

A team communicating well will obviously have a better chance at succeeding with microservices. A team with a good cloud strategy will save costs. But, the combination of DevOps, microservices and public cloud are the ultimate end state. How you get there is one smart step at a time.

An interesting aspect in the growth of DevOps consultancies is the type of clients wanting to make those steps - established organisations who are willing to invest in change. DevOps is no longer the preserve of start-ups, but has a place in all types of enterprise. Thair of DevOpsGuys sees the companies who benefit most from moving to DevOps, are the ones with the biggest challenges:

Those facing digital disruption in their market, and who are undergoing their own digital transformations in order to try and survive. DevOps is the "engine room" of the digital transformation because it enables you to shorten product cycles and get your products into the hands of your customer sooner, before your market is cannibalised by some faster moving, leaner, start-up.

Common to all the consultancies is a belief that DevOps is a model that can change businesses and help them to achieve their goals. Contino’s Saunders believes it is more than just a short-term trend:

DevOps as a term has been overloaded with many definitions - often conflicting ones - and this is why there is already substantial fatigue around the term. But with the net cast broadly enough - encompassing not only technology staff but also product delivery people - DevOps can revolutionise software delivery. But it is hard, and so it needs senior buy-in and evangelism to not be dismissed as the latest trend that will blow over eventually.

The latest State of DevOps Report from Puppet shows how much value high performing DevOps adopters are bringing to their businesses. Data like this will fuel the demand for DevOps, and it's likely we'll see more activity in the consulting space, with established consultancies building out DevOps practices and more new start-ups.

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